Module 3: Facilitating for connection

3.4 Supporting learner–content interactions during term

Key principles: Enhancing learner–content engagement

Icon of student and a screen showing multimedia.
“student” icon by The Icon Z and “content” icon by Shakeel Ch., from the Noun Project. Used under CC BY 3.0 license.

Learners are people, not content-learning machines. And while much or all of your course content may have been created well before you start teaching a term offer (and may even have been created by someone other than you), keeping your learners’ experience as humans front of mind while teaching allows you to help them have the most success with mastering your course content throughout the term.

Key principles: Clarifying confusion

One of the biggest roles you can play as an online teacher during term is to identify points of confusion for your learners and help answer questions and clear things up. Points of confusion may involve the business of the course itself (for example details about assessments, deadlines, or digital tools) or may relate to the course content.

Keeping up the avenues of communication and human connection is crucial to supporting learners when they experience confusion.

  • Check in with your learners frequently to get a sense of how things are going and what they might be struggling with in the course.
  • Monitor assessments to see if there are clear patterns in where learners are making mistakes.
  • Monitor participation in course activities to make sure learners are meeting expectations, and if they are falling short, see if confusion might be part of the reason why.

When confusions inevitably arise, respond to them with compassion and clarity. Helping learners feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them can be transformative for their experience in your course. Helping them to understand that they are not alone in struggling with difficult materials helps learners to maintain focus and motivation throughout the course, and to help one another with the challenges of learning.

Key principles: Supporting metacognition

dimensions of significant learning icons: Learning how to learn (a gear inside of a head icon) and caring (hands holding a heart icon)
“hands and heart” icon by Eliricon and “thought” icon by emma mitchell, from the Noun Project. Used under CC BY 3.0 license.

Metacognition is simply thinking about one’s own thinking. In the context of humanizing your online courses, encouraging learners to think and strategize about their own learning (through metacognition) helps your learners to stay connected, stay focused, and reach out for help when they are struggling with course material. The development of metacognition is foundational to several dimensions of significant learning, but especially the dimensions learning to learn and caring.

Modelling metacognition

student icon in thought
“thinking” icon by Ahmed Sagarwala, from the Noun Project. Used under CC BY 3.0 license.

How do you approach the process of learning and solving problems in your own field? Whether you are an instructor, TA, or other facilitator, you have achieved a high level of success in your area of study or expertise, which means you have learned to learn your subject matter effectively.

If you begin to see an area of substantial confusion in your online course, with many learners appearing to struggle with the same material, consider taking some time to share a friendly description of how you personally might think through the content or solve the problem at hand. Or share how you may have struggled with but were able to learn this particular content yourself. Adding a personal touch to a content problem can help foster more positive emotional engagement with the content in question on the part of learners and also provides practical advice for overcoming the hurdle learners are facing.

Teaching metacognition

  • Self-reflection on approach to content. Consider presenting your learners with questions that help them identify their approach to course content.
  • Engage learners in sharing strategies. Keep a running list of successful strategies that you or other learners have used to master certain types of content or practices that help learners learn online (see examples below). Share with your learners in an announcement, discussion forum, or via email.
  • Provide formative feedback. Take time to give quality feedback on any required learning journals or other reflection activities. If none are required and time allows, you can create an opportunity for learners to reflect on their learning and provide guidance by inviting them to create a learning reflection informally and providing (ungraded) feedback.

Going deeper

Some examples for strategies you can share with your learners can be found in the online article “21 Study Tips for Online Classes Success“.

For more on metacognition and motivations see Fostering Engagement: Facilitating Courses in Higher Educations, Chapter 4c.

Strategies in action: Supporting metacognition

Video announcement on learning how to learn

In this short announcement video, Michele Pacansky-Brock shares a tip for her learners to help them approach complex materials. You can use short video announcements like these to share similar encouragement and advice with your learners.

How is a module like a watermelon? (Video length ~ 1 min)

Transcript for How is a module like a watermelon? available on YouTube.

Study tips

Sharing study tips like those in the below article can help boost metacognition and learner success.

3-2-1 activity to support metacognition

Try a 3-2-1 activity, or something similar, to help encourage learners to think more carefully about what they are learning and what gaps still exist in their knowledge. The K Patricia Cross academy shows you how to do this online here.

Teaching Adaptation: 3-2-1 (two videos ∼ 4 mins total with templates and rubrics)

Active reading activities and guidance

Consider including active reading documents to help create teaching presence while your learners work through readings, and to help foster critical thinking as they read.

Online Teaching Adaptation: Active Reading Documents (two videos ∼ 4 mins total with templates and rubrics)

Key principles: Keeping learners motivated

Motivation is a major factor in successful learning and fuels learner effort and willingness to engage in courageous and significant. Humanizing your approach to teaching online by reflecting on who your learners are, their goals, and what piques their interest allows you to help support and grow learner motivation throughout a term offer.

Consider some of the following strategies:

  • Using polls, surveys and interactives to help learners share their ideas and opinions about course content with you and each other.
  • Drawing connections with real-life applications for course knowledge. For instance, you might share how you use certain information in your own work or research, or how professionals in a given field rely on certain key skills.
  • Using relatable examples and personal experiences drawn from your own life to help learners connect with course content.
  • Connecting course content to the news or current events to show its relevance, or just to share a lighter moment about something related to the class.
  • Sharing your own passion and enthusiasm for the course content.

Strategies in action: Keeping learners motivated

Consider using a contemporary issues journal or similar assessments to help learners see connections between course materials and the real world.

Contemporary Issues Journal (two videos ~ 5 min total with templates and rubrics)

Reflect and apply: Teaching checklist

Before we move on to discuss live sessions, take some time to reflect on the materials in this module so far and identify some key strategies that you want to use in your own course.

How to complete this activity and save your work:

You can use the below interactive to record your ideas, then export the document and keep it handy as you teach your next online course. The interactive has been pre-populated with headings for all the strategies discussed so far in this module so that you can jot down specifics about how you might want to employ each strategy in your own context. Your responses will be saved as you move forward to the next question (note: your answers will not be saved if you navigate away from this page). Your responses are private and cannot be seen by anyone else.

When you complete the below activity and wish to download your responses or if you prefer to work in a Word document offline, please follow the steps below:

  1. Navigate through all tabs or jump ahead by selecting the “Export” tab in the left-hand navigation.
  2. Hit the “Export document” button.
  3. Hit the “Export” button in the top right navigation.

To delete your answers simply refresh the page or move to the next page in this course.

References and credits

The sections “Modelling metacognition” and “Teaching metacognition” are derived from original Fostering Engagement: Facilitating Online Courses in Higher Education, Unit1a by K.E. Wilson and D. Opperwall. Licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted. The original has been adapted through modification of text, images, and headings. This derivative work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Humanizing Virtual Learning Copyright © by University of Waterloo; Trent University; and Conestoga College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.